words and photos by Ken Jobe (@booksofjobe)
The signs plastered all over Wichita’s legendary Cotillion Ballroom make it abundantly clear. Two posted in the lobby, on the way to the floor, and right up front on either side of the stage: NO CROWDSURFING
To be fair, though, the signs don’t say anything about stage diving. Still, when one overly excited male somehow makes his way up from the side of the stage and executes a textbook dive during the song Emily Dickinson from Clutch’s latest album, 2018’s Book of Bad Decisions, he is met by three security guards and escorted out as soon as his feet hit the ground.
This scenario doesn’t phase the band, of course. This is hardly their first stage diver. Singer Neil Fallon does, however, take the time to acknowledge it at the conclusion of the song. “That song always gets the stage diving going. Something about Torie poets gets everybody worked up.”
It’s funny. But the real funny thing is, the fan could’ve pulled that dive to almost any song in the set and the joke still would’ve worked, because the iconic Maryland band has made a career out of song topics that are, well…unique.
Conspiracy theorists. A holy rolling, preaching trucker. A literal recipe for crab cakes. A president who will “Put Jimi Hendrix on the twenty dollar bill, Bill Hicks on a five note”. Zombie lawyers locked in a barn.
That’s one half of the equation that has led to Clutch becoming one of the most original, consistent (and best) rock bands in America today. The other half is the blistering music.
Opening the show with the oldest (and arguably most ferocious) song in the set, Passive Restraints, from their 1992 self-titled EP, the band shows they haven’t lost a step in their 28 years together. The rhythm section of Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster are tight as a coiled spring, and Tim Sult’s guitar playing is bold and fierce, without veering into any unnecessary guitar pyrotechnics that would get in the way of the song. In a way, it’s almost as if the band is the straight man to allow for Neil Fallon’s one-of-a-kind brand of off-kilter humor and intensity.
Hitting the stage with the electric, spastic energy of someone half his age, Fallon leads the band through song after song without much in the way of banter in between. Clutch hasn’t played the same set list twice on this tour, and while it’s presumably to keep the guys in the band from getting bored, watching them live something else becomes apparent—it doesn’t really matter. Naturally everyone has their favorites that they’d like to hear, but the band is so good, their songs so damn consistent, that you could blindly assemble a set list from their catalog and not have a dud in the bunch.
They play at least one song from almost all their albums, and if someone didn’t know their music, a person could be hard pressed to tell you which songs are new and which are old enough to be off their parents’ insurance.
As if for proof, Clutch take the stage for an encore and close the show with Electric Worry from 2007’s From Beale St. to Oblivion, followed by the song off Book of Bad Decisions about the zombie lawyers locked in the barn, Ghoul Wrangler. The songs were released 11 years apart, and they aren’t always in the set. The band closes each night with whatever they want, but you can bet not a single fan leaves a show unsatisfied.